The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story
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Russ Pitts | 14 Nov 2006 07:01
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It's possible that Dan Hsu started it. In January of 2006, Hsu, the Editor-in-Chief of Electronic Gaming Monthly, published an editorial slamming some of his colleagues for accepting advertising money in exchange for favorable editorial coverage.

"My industry pisses me off," he said, then - without naming names - described encounters with ad buyers who had demanded that various publications "play ball" or else lose access to pre-release games and exclusive interviews. "Those guys can kiss my ass," wrote Hsu. Meaning, one assumes, both the ad buyers and the editors who would deal with them.

One month later, in the very next issue of EGM, Hsu published an interview with Peter Moore, Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Retail Sales and Marketing for Microsoft's Home and Entertainment Division (aka: Head Xbox 360 Cheerleader), in which Hsu had apparently decided to pull out all the stops, all but calling Mr. Moore a liar and a thief directly to his face.

"The [Xbox360]'s awfully loud, isn't it?" Hsu asked, criticizing Microsoft's just-released console, an almost unheard of blasphemy in such an exclusive interview setting. Hsu also took Moore to task for the Xbox360's lackluster support for original Xbox games, the so-called "backwards compatibility," which Microsoft had heavily advertised, yet (as Moore himself would later admit) had failed to deliver. Hsu asked Moore to pick his favorite game from among three pairs of games. Moore, predictably, picked the more popular of each pair.

Hsu then sprang the trap: "So here's what we're getting at: You picked three Xbox 1 games that aren't backwards compatible on the Xbox 360, and the other ones - Sneakers, Kabuki, and Barbie - are. It's a weird list."

The interview was seen by some as a bold step forward for videogame journalism, by others as a step in the wrong direction and by still more as another day in the life. Nevertheless, regardless of which side of the fence readers (and writers) found themselves on, there was no mistaking Hsu's message: It was time for game writers to grow a pair. Like, one assumes, Lester Bangs.

"I wrote that ["kiss my ass" editorial]," Hsu later told The Escapist, "because I was angry because I knew ... stuff was going on that was very blatantly bad - very obvious things that you should not do whether or not you have any proper journalism background. ... [I thought] if I throw this out there it's probably going to do me more harm than good, but at least it might shake people up, some of my peers might be like 'He's right, we want to do a better job, we want to be more honest.' This way all of us as an industry can grow together to be a little bit more respected."

***

"As far as I can tell, there is no major critic who specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like, nor is anyone analyzing what specific games mean in any context outside the game itself," wrote Chuck Klosterman, several months later in an article for Esquire. "There is no Pauline Kael of video-game writing. There is no Lester Bangs of video-game writing. And I'm starting to suspect there will never be."

Klosterman's treatise, titled "The Lester Bangs of Video Games" prompted what seems now to be an unrelenting stream of introspective game journalism "how-to" articles; in essence, a veritable roll call for Lester Bangs wannabes (this writer included), all of whom seem to be saying the same thing: Klosterman don't know jack.

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